Donald Arnold

Professor of Biological Sciences

We are using novel recombinant probes, known as intrabodies, to visualize and manipulate synaptic connectivity in vivo. Areas being explored include development, learning and memory, sleep and neurodegenerative disease.

Sarah Bottjer

Professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology

The major goal of our lab is to understand how experience sculpts neural circuits for learning during development.  Certain types of learning occur only during sensitive periods of development, and coincide with heightened phases of neural plasticity. In humans, for example, children are much more adept at learning languages than are adults, and the time at which the capacity for language acquisition decreases seems to correlate with the end of the period of maturation of the cerebral hemispheres.

Dion Dickman

Associate Professor of Biological Sciences

Synapse development, function, and plasticity using a combination of Drosophila genetics, confocal imaging, and electrophysiological approaches.

Caleb Finch

University Professor, ARCO/William F. Kieschnick Chair in the Neurobiology of Aging and Professor of Gerontology, Biology and Psychology

Dr. Finch’s main interests are the genomic regulation of aging processes. He has authored three books: Longevity, Senescence, and the Genome (1990); Aging: A Natural History (1995, with R. Ricklefs); Chance, Development, and Aging (2000, with TBL Kirkwood); and The Biology of Human Longevity (2007). In 450 reports and reviews since 1966, Finch has lead several developments in the fields of the neuroendocrinology and pharmacology of normal aging and Alzheimer disease, and in the biodemography of aging.

Joel Hahn

Assistant Professor (Research) of Biological Sciences

Within the broad field of systems neuroscience, my research interests encompass investigations into brain-wide neuronal network architecture, the structure and function of specific neuronal circuits (especially hypothalamic) involved in the control of physiological and behavioral processes that support survival and reproduction, and the development and application of informatics research tools.

Albert Herrera

Professor of Biological Sciences

I am interested in understanding the embryonic development of synapses in the vertebrate nervous system, using the neuromuscular junction as a model system. Current research focuses on synapse elimination, the process by which the abundant but labile connections formed early in development are reduced to a smaller but stable number. This process is largely determines the connectivity between neurons in adulthood.

Bruce Herring

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

We combine innovative genetic approaches with electrophysiology and super-resolution imaging techniques to gain insight into the molecular underpinnings of mammalian synaptic function. More specifically, my lab is interested in the molecular mechanisms governing synaptic plasticity and how dysregulation of these mechanisms gives rise to neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disease.

S. Andrew Hires

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

Our lab seeks to understand the role the cortex plays in the processing of tactile sensations and generation of perception.  To do so, we record from cortical neurons during quantified behavior, correlate sensory input to neural activity and modify, delete or synthesize perceptions via patterned photostimulation of cortex.  In other words, our work aims to provide read, translation and write access to cortical circuits. Ultimately, we seek to develop therapeutic interventions for neurological disorders of sensory processing and tactile feedback systems for prosthetics.

Judith Hirsch

Professor of Biological Sciences: Section Head

Our research explores the earliest stages of visual cortical processing. Specifically, we ask how thalamocortical connections and circuits within the striate cortex itself resolve basic features of the visual scene. Individual projects are designed to explore key aspects of cortical integration, such as interaction between synaptic input and intrinsic properties of the membrane, functional specializations of intracortical pathways and the synaptic basis and physiology of responses to visual pattern.

Emily Liman

Professor of Biological Sciences

Studies in the Liman lab are aimed at uncovering fundamental mechanisms by which animals detect and respond to sensory stimuli in their environment. Our studies in the taste system have led to the identification of a new family of ion channels, called the OTOPs, one of which serves as a sour receptor. Ongoing studies seeks to understand the contribution of these channels to physiological and pathophysiological processes within a variety of cellular contexts, including in the taste and vestibular systems, in adipose tissue and in the digestive tract. Other studies are aimed at understanding how the structure of channels, visualized by CryoEM, subserves its unusual function as one of the few proton-selective ion channels. We use a combination of mouse genetics, molecular biology (including RNAseq), cellular imaging, patch clamp recording and mouse behavior, and collaborate with experts in CryoEM to address these questions.

Lauren McElvain

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

Our lab investigates the organization and function of motor circuits using multidisciplinary cellular and systems neuroscience approaches. We aim to identify how distinct brain regions and cell types interact to select and control movements. Our major focus is on the basal ganglia, a critical network in the motor system whose dysregulation underlies several common movement disorders.­­

David McKemy

Professor of Biological Sciences

Peripheral somatosensory neurons critically differentiate innocuous stimuli from those that cause tissue damage and pain (nociception). We use a combination of cellular, genetic, and behavioral approaches to understand how these cells transduce these discrete environmental stimuli, and their contribution to inflammatory and neuropathic pain.

Jeffrey Moore

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

The goal of my lab is to understand how networks of connected neurons interact to organize complex behaviors. To do this, we investigate how neuronal sensorimotor circuits in the brainstem control innate behaviors, and how higher order brain structures engage these circuits to appropriately regulate these behaviors. The laboratory uses a combination of molecular, systems, and theoretical neurobiological techniques to address these important topics

Larry Swanson

Milo Don and Lucille Appleman Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Biological Sciences, Neurology and Psychology; Provost Professor; Member National Academy of Sciences

We are interested in the organization of neural networks that control motivated behavior in mammals. The approach is mostly structural, and to display and model results we are developing computer graphics and database approaches.

Alan Watts

Professor of Biological Sciences, Physiology and Biophysics

Our work is directed towards understanding the structure and function of the brain networks that contribute to the development, manifestation, and complications of diabetes and obesity. We are particularly interested in how these networks function to control blood glucose and the secretion of hormones from the pancreas and adrenal gland.

John Monterosso

John Monterosso studies mechanisms underlying human self-control success and failure from the combined perspectives of behavioral economics and cognitive neuroscience. He has co-authored more than 100 journal articles and book chapters. His research is primarily applied to the problem of addiction and obesity, and it is currently supported by the National Institute of Health.

Jonas Kaplan

My research in cognitive neuroscience focuses on issues of social relationships, empathy, self, action perception and creativity. I use functional neuroimaging to examine the neural mechanisms that underlie our experience of resonating with other people and being aware of our selves.

Rita Barakat

My research and teaching background spans across a breadth of neuroscience and biological science topics including the neurobiological mechanisms of reading and language in humans, statistical approaches in studying behavior and the homeostatic mechanisms of the mammalian autonomic nervous system. I have spent the last seven years cultivating my skillset in primary, secondary and higher STEM education and best practices in teaching diverse student populations. In my time as a graduate student teaching assistant, assistant lecturer and lecturer at USC, I have had the privilege of mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in their research and other academic endeavors, and have forged meaningful collaborations with the Joint Educational Project (JEP) and Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) community educational programs.

Payam Piray

How do people make sense of incomplete and noisy observations? How do humans make decisions in an uncertain world and how do they learn from their mistakes? Dr. Piray uses computational tools from machine learning (reinforcement learning, Bayesian machine learning) and experimental tools from cognitive neuroscience (fMRI, virtual reality) to study these problems in health and disease.

Antoine Bechara

Morteza Dehghani

Morteza Dehghani is currently a Research Assistant Professor at Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at University of Southern California and a Research Fellow at ARTIS.  Before joining ICT, he was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University.  His research interests include computational social sciences, cross cultural differences in moral decision making, analogical and case-based reasoning, and cognitive modeling of different aspects of cognition.  Specifically, he is interested in the role of cultural products in decision making and in the emergence of sacred values. Morteza’s research approach consists of both conducting psychological experiments and computational cognitive modeling.  He received a Ph.D. and MS from Northwestern University and MS and BS from University of California at Los Angeles.

Jason David Zevin

My research is focused on how domain-general perceptual and learning processes give rise to specialized language functions in reading and speech perception. My work on reading is driven by large-scale PDP models that learn to map among the written forms of words, their pronunciations, and their meanings. The models instantiate the theory that there is a universal functional architecture for reading across languages, despite large surface di erences in writing systems. Testing predictions from the models involves collecting behavioral and functional neuroimaging data as part of a network of researchers in eight countries. Because the kinds of models I use have an important learning component, they can be used to address questions about typical and atypical development. I have recently begun work on a number of large-scale collaborative projects fo- cused on this translational application of modeling. One exciting new direction in this work is the development of new techniques for relating computational models to neurobiological models that provide an alternative to the “box and arrow” approach still common in cognitive neuroscience. Because reading is a multimodal skill that involves phonological and semantic representations, as well as processing of arbitrary visual codes, my work with reading models has also inspired research on other aspects of language, particularly speech perception. Modeling of “age of acquisition” effects in reading suggested that loss of behavioral plasticity could be attributed in part to the organization of neural networks in response to experience. This led to a series of experiments examining behavior and brain activity related to perception of non-native speech contrasts. A central premise of that research was that brain responses would be more informative than behavioral responses, especially when collected in “passive” tasks. Some surprising results { along with a set of experiments involving novel approaches to the analysis of data collected under more ecologically valid conditions — have lead to a re-orientation of this work toward a focus on how speech can be processed at multiple levels of description simultaneously, and how native and non-native speakers di er in how they weigh these levels of description during comprehension. This also has interesting consequences for how we think about changes in responses to speech over the course of development.

Ernest Greene

My recent research has focused on neural mechanisms for encoding of shape information. The research makes use of a custom designed 64×64 LED display board that allows for microsecond control over each of the LEDs. Each shape is specified as address positions (dots) along the major contours, especially the outer boundary of the shape. I have found that shapes can be identified on the basis of sparse boundary cues. A sparse pattern of dots will often be sufficient for identifying known objects and also for match-recognition of unknown shapes. The unknown-shape experiments demonstrate one-trial encoding of the shape information sufficient for translation, size, and rotation invariance. This is a challenge to neural network models that require many thousands or tens of thousands of training trials to accomplish invariant recognition of shapes. Shapes can be identified when the span between boundary dots is well beyond the receptive field size of orientation-selective neurons in primary visual cortex. These results call for new concepts for how shape information is encoded. A link for accessing a given article may be provided at the end of the citation.

Toby Mintz

Professor Mintz’s research interests center around the congnitive mechanisms underlying language aquisition. In a current project, he is finding that infants have started to form rudimentary representations of the grammatical units of their language, such as verb inflections, by 15 months of age. He also uses computational modeling techniques, methods from computer science, and experiments with adults as tools in testing and forming theories of language development in children.

Dave Lavond

Professor Lavond’s research and teaching interests are primarily in the behavioral neurosciences of learning and memory, especially in behavioral neuroanatomy, physiology and pharmacology of normal and recovery of function after brain injury. His research work involved animal models of recovery of function and in localization of learning and memory. Currently, his primary interests are in normal and animal learning in his teaching and he not actively doing research.

Scott Kanoski

Dr. Kanoski’s research focuses on the neurobiological control of food intake and body weight regulation. More specifically his laboratory focuses on understanding how the brain processes peripherally- and centrally-derived hormonal signals to control learned and motivated aspects of feeding behavior, as well as to examine how these neuroendocrine signaling systems contribute to and are compromised by obesity and related metabolic disorders. At the center of this research is the hippocampus; a brain region traditionally linked with memory function, but more recently shown to control higher-order aspects of feeding behavior. The lab also focuses on exploring the relationship between consuming saturated fatty acids and refined carbohydrates (i.e., “Western diets”) and the development of hippocampal dysfunction, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s pathology.

Darby Saxbe

How do family relationships get under the skin? My program of research seeks to answer this question, exploring both biological and social processes that take place within the rich interpersonal context of the family. I use interdisciplinary approaches, including modeling patterns of hormones like cortisol and testosterone and employing neuroimaging to understand the neural correlates of family relationship behavior.

I have two main, interrelated lines of research: the first investigates the impact of family environments and family transitions on parents, and the second investigates the impact of family environments on children. My ongoing Hormones Across the Transition to Childrearing (HATCH) study, funded in 2016 by a five-year CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, follows first-time expectant parents from pregnancy across the first year postpartum in order to understand the factors that predict successful adjustment to parenthood. One unique feature of this study is its emphasis on fathers, who are often neglected within parent-child research.

We conduct in-lab visits during pregnancy and at six months postpartum that include couple interactions (like a relationship conflict discussion and parenting discussion), psychosocial questionnaires, and sampling of hormones known to be dynamic across the transition to parenthood, such as cortisol, testosterone, oxytocin, and prolactin.

HATCH includes a neuroimaging substudy. We are scanning expectant fathers prenatally and then again at six months postpartum in order to assess the structural and functional changes in new fathers that accompany their transition to parenthood. This will be the first prospective study to examine change in the paternal brain from pre-parenthood to parenthood. We will look at prenatal to postpartum changes in brain volume, structural connectivity (using diffusion tensor imaging), resting state connectivity, and functional tasks that assess fathers’ responses to partner and infant stimuli.

Lin Chen

We seek to understand the mechanisms of transcription regulation and signal transduction at the molecular level. The early part of our studies has been largely centered on structural analyses of transcription factor complexes (e.g., the NFAT/Fos-Jun/DNA complex, Nature, 392, 42,1998 and the NFAT/FOXP3/DNA complex, Cell, 126, 375, 2006) or the signaling complex (e.g., the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor complex – nAChR, Nature Neuroscience, 10, 953, 2007). From the studies of transcription factor/DNA complexes, we noticed frequent DNA bridging by certain transcription factors such as FOXP3 (Immunity, 34, 479, 2011) and GATA3 (Cell Reports, 2, 1197, 2012). Intrigued by these observations, we started a new research project to map long range chromatin interactions in cells in order to study their roles in gene regulation (Nature Biotechnology, 30, 90, 2012, awarded US Patent 8076070). These past studies have led to our current effort to explore cellular mechanism at the molecular and systems levels using a multidisciplinary approach. We combine structural, biophysical, biochemical/chemical biology and genomics methods. We have also been actively developing new molecular tools that enable the expansion and deepening of our perception of biological mechanisms and disease origins. Another project in the lab is to explore the potential of RNA mutation in protein folding. This study is inspired by the work of Marc Vermulst who has been sequencing RNA in a number of cells. Based on a recent work in my lab (Lei et al., JMB, 430, 1157, 2018), we have noticed that a subtle mutation in MEF2 could induce a dramatic switch of an alpha helix into beta strand that initiate the formation of extended beta sheet like those see in beta amyloid. The new project is to test the hypothesis if some of the RNA mutations could cause amino acid changes in certain proteins that cause amyloid and prion formation. If true, this could be a mechanism by which rare RNA errors could lead to functional changes, especially in a wide range of aging-related diseases such as the neurodegenerative diseases.

Emeritus Faculty

Michael Arbib

University Professor, Fletcher Jones Chair in Computer Science, and Professor of Computer Science, Biological Sciences, and Psychology

The thrust of Michael Arbib’s work is expressed in the title of his first book, Brains, Machines and Mathematics (McGraw-Hill, 1964). The brain is not a computer in the current technological sense, but he has based his career on the argument that we can learn much about machines from studying brains, and much about brains from studying machines. He has thus always worked for an interdisciplinary environment in which computer scientists and engineers can talk to neuroscientists and cognitive scientists.

Chien-Ping Ko

Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences

Our research work focused on synaptic structure, function, formation, repair, maintenance, and synapse-glia interactions, as well as diseases at the neuromuscular junction. Latterly, our focus shifted to the cellular and molecular mechanisms of the pathogenesis and translational research of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), the leading genetic cause of infant mortality characterized by the synaptic defects, loss of spinal motor neurons and widespread muscle atrophy.

William McClure

Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences

Professor McClure’s research has focused on the effects of mild prenatal stress on the development of adult rats. His interest in this work stemmed from the hypothesis that the devastating human disease, schizophrenia, is caused, at least in part, by a prenatal effect: a challenge presented to the mother causes changes in the structure of the brain, which in turn lead to development of the disease when the affected child reaches young adulthood.